When one of Zach Hendrix’s three business partners said he was getting divorced, sympathy turned into shock as everyone realized that a soon-to-be ex-wife could become a co-owner. Understanding the law around business and property division in a divorce is the first step to protecting yourself.

business property divisions

Open for Business

When a small business owner divorces, the company can become part of a property fight; the battle can end with owners losing all or part of their businesses. Or, they or the company may be forced to take on debt to prevent an ex from sharing ownership.

Even when ownership isn’t at stake, the rancor and uncertainty around a divorce can take a toll on a company — owners may be distracted and unable to focus on what the business needs.

Hendrix and two of his co-owners had to borrow a combined $250,000 to buy out their partner in 2017 after he announced his divorce plans. A startup, and not in a position to get that much credit, the three had to personally guarantee the loans. They were able to repay the debt in a year and a half out of their profits.

The divorce was a learning experience for the partners. When they started, they hadn’t written what’s known as a buy-sell agreement that creates a process and sets a price for buying out a partner.

Florida Business Property Division

I have written about property division recently. Florida is an equitable distribution state when it comes to dividing businesses in divorce.

In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities.

There are several factors to know whether a business interest is marital. First, you will need to look at the date of marriage and the date the business interest was acquired.

Additionally, you should look to the source of funds used to start the business, and also if there were money and labor contributions to the business given by either spouse during the marriage. In distributing the marital assets and liabilities between the parties, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal distribution.

Whenever an agreement cannot be made between the spouses, the court’s distribution of marital assets or marital liabilities must be supported by factual findings and be based on competent evidence.

Once you have determined whether an interest in a business is marital, how do you actually determine what that interest is worth?

There are three approaches to value a business interest: (1) the asset approach; (2) the income approach; and (3) the market approach.  Each approach has inherent strengths and weaknesses.

Any valuation expert should consider all three approaches; however, it is often the case that all three approaches cannot be applied.

Back in business

The emotional fallout from a divorce can affect co-owners and employees. In his settlement with his wife, Jeffrey Deckman agreed to pay her $100,000 over four years; that amount was half what his telecommunications business was valued at.

Deckman borrowed money to make the payments, but having that debt hanging over him created stress that spilled over to his company.

“I started getting edgy, short-tempered, pushing hard for (sales) numbers that I never pushed so hard for before.”

He began fighting with his two business partners, and the discord affected everyone who worked there. It took six months for Deckman to realize what he was doing. “It showed me on a certain level that I hadn’t accepted responsibility for the deal I made,” he says.

But by the time Deckman understood that “I was making people pay,” he had damaged his relationship with his partners and staffers. In 2005, two years after the divorce, he realized that he needed to withdraw from working in the company, and in 2008 he sold his stake. Deckman, who now does consulting for small and mid-sized companies, believes despite losing his share of the business that he did the right thing in his divorce settlement.

He says of his ex-wife: “Today, years later, we are great friends and our children benefit greatly because of it.”

The Detroit News story is here.